Dirk and Retirement? Not So Fast

The Achilles tendon bothered two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. Kobe Bryant never fully recovered from his torn Achilles and Dirk Nowitzki dealt with Achilles pain early in the season last year.  No matter. Nowitzki will return to the court for his 20th year and possibly, if he feels like it, his 21st. He will join Bryant as the only players in NBA history to log 20 scoring years with one team. If he makes it to 21, he will have that record all by himself. To make it all possible, Dirk opted out his $25 million payday, took half as much. Let’s call it the Tim Duncan rule. Hall of Fame players willing to take less to help their franchise. In a way, it makes sense for Nowitzki to pass Bryant in years of service because Bryant never took less money and probably never would have.

That two of the greatest scorers in the modern NBA suffered through the very same thing, even as their games were holistically different, is an irony and a cautionary tale for the Steph Currys and Klay Thompsons of the world. The legs tell you when it is time to quit. You don’t tell them. Dirk’s legs are still doing fine, thank you very much.

Dirk passed Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the all time scoring list. Ahead of him are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Dirk and Bryant are the only two that didn’t play in college. Dirk, passed the 30,000 mark plateau last season and was visibly moved by everything that happened to him, a German kid who didn’t know how to play, then an  All-Star, MVP, champion and finally legendary baller.

At the time he broke the 30,000 point rare air-ness, he said:  “It’s been such a long ride. When you struggle like I did at the beginning, my first years, and there’s doubts creeping in- are you going to make it? Are you good enough? And then 19 years later you’re only the 6th guy to ever do something, that’s incredible.” (Dirk Nowitzki to Marc Stein, ESPN)

If healthy, he has a good shot at passing Wilt Chamberlain in 2017-18.

This past season, Nowitzki played 54 games. He averaged 14.2 points, 43.78% and 37.8%  from three, near career lows for Nowitzki.  He had his best defensive rating in five years. He was not the Mavs best player which means the Mavs are headed in the right direction, creating a blueprint for after Nowitzki. Dennis Smith Jr. was a great point guard pick up and should pay dividends immediately for Dallas.

2016-17 was the first time since his rookie year Dirk didn’t play 60 games. That is what happens as players age precipitously. It is harder and harder to keep up with the grueling NBA schedule. The body hurts. But Dirk’s rebounds remained consistent even as his scoring was not, five points off his 18 points a game of 2015-16.  He posted his lowest offensive rating since his rookie year.

Clearly, Dirk will get the Kobe Farewell Tour, which he deserves and which no one saw coming in the summer of 1998.

Dirk Nowitzki was drafted with the 9th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks who then traded him for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The Bucks needed a big man to pair with Ray Allen. Offensive genius Don Nelson was giddy about Nowitzki after working him out. At the time, Nelson said Dirk was the best young player he had ever seen. In that same draft, Nelson selected Pat Garrity and then traded him to Phoenix for Steve Nash. And thus began one of the Mavs greatest duos.

Dirk’s consistency and his perimeter shooting, which made him an anomaly, a seven footer draining threes, changed the NBA from a league where action by big men was in the paint, to a space the floor league and an overall acceptance of perimeter shooting from big men. From 2000-2010, Nowitzki was a 20+ point per game player with his high being 26.6 points a game, in 2005-06. The next year, he won the MVP.

In 2016-17, Nowtizki made 41.5% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 37.8% of his pull ups. When he leaves the NBA  next year or the year after, he will have made the league better than when he found it. He revolutionized the position. He won a MVP. He won a title. He was in 13 All-Star games. He won 16 Player of the Week awards and 6 Player of the Month awards He was All-NBA first, second or third team 12 times. He has played the most NBA games of any active player, the most minutes played, the most field goals scored, the most field goals attempted, the most threes made, the most field goals missed, the most free throws made, the most defensive rebounds, the most points among active players.

Last month, Dirk won the Twyman-Stokes Award which is given to a player considered to be the best teammate, voted on by his peers. No one was surprised Dirk was honored. (The award is named after Jack Twyman who  became the legal guardian of his teammate Maurice Stokes after Stokes fell in a game, suffered head trauma and was paralyzed). In addition to all his other superlatives, well liked by others tops the Dirk Nowitzki list.

But the twenty years is the thing and will be talked about all year. It is an accomplishment. Twenty one years is an achievement and will be historic, one man, one franchise. It says you are a survivor. It says you didn’t run. It says you didn’t burn bridges. You stayed even when it was rough.

This is what we know. Two decades in the NBA is a testimony. A career written in ink. Dirk came. He participated. He finally conquered. History attached to him with ease, noting he was revolutionary, talented and very special.

 

photo via llananba